Training the mind and body

I’ve been a regular cyclist for 25 years. For the first decade, I was serious, riding every day and following schedules from books and coaches. But if I’m honest, my approach was always based more on “trying” than “training”–I would often skip days, then put out an extreme effort when I did ride to make up for my inconsistency. In the end, this meant I had less fitness than I could have, and races and training involved more pain than they needed to.

Since my son was born, the limits on my time have forced me to focus my riding. I now do [most of my rides]( before dawn on the indoor trainer, and each ride has some structure to it, often [interval training]( Because of the consistency and efficiency of the indoor rides, I can get up to 5 1-hour workouts per week, and finish before he wakes up in the morning.

A typical interval session sees me spinning slowly at first, then shifting gears to increase the effort for a period of time before going back to spinning. This process repeats up to 30 times per workout. It feels mechanical at times; that I’m treating my body like [an IKEA chair durability test]( But it’s had a remarkable effect: in just a few hours a week, I’m now close to the fitness I had 15-20 years ago, when I had much more time to ride. And these efforts feel a lot easier than the workouts I did then.

Recently I also started using the [Headspace]( service to practice mindfulness and guided meditation. It struck me today how similar the process is to my cycling training. The Headspace approach is based on short (10-minute) daily sessions. I do them before I ride in the morning–which means getting up just a little bit earlier, but gives more consistency than trying to fit it in later. A typical session spends a little bit of time relaxing and getting settled, then focuses on one or two physical sensations: sound, body tension, breathing, etc.

The part most similar to my cycling is near the end of each session, where the guide encourages you to let the mind go, to let it wander and think about whatever it likes. Since this comes after several minutes of focus, it feels like a rest, giving the mind a chance to catch up to the effort. But every time, after a minute of rest, the guide tells you to refocus, to pull the mind back to center and let go of the thoughts it had wandered to. This feels to me almost exactly like the point in a cycling workout where I shift up and start a new interval effort. The mindful focus is the effort, the wandering the rest interval.

You can’t expect to always be focused, just as you can’t expect to always push at the highest level on a bike. Both processes involve effort and rest. And also like cycling, you can’t make up for an inconsistent mental life by “trying” even harder. The mind requires regular training, just like the body, and the right type of training makes everything easier and more effective.

In a recent Sunset magazine article, a writer spent a day just like a Hollywood celebrity. It involved workouts, special meals, and a busy social schedule. He came away with the feeling that the celebrity life was more like athletic training than hedonistic indulgence. As a celebrity, your image is your livelihood, and it requires regular effort to maintain.

Training isn’t something just for athletes–it’s a process for the mind and the lifestyle as well. It’s been interesting to see how similar techniques can benefit each of those.

AidPod: Truly great design

I love [the ColaLife AidPod](

* Designed to fit in the empty space in Coca-Cola shipping crates, piggybacking on the most successful distribution network in the world
* Provides diarrhea medicine (the Kit Yamoyo) along with literacy-not-required instructions
* The sustainable business model provides value at every step of the supply chain

That’s great design. You can [help fund the AidPod project at Global Giving](

Update Interesting follow-up: the founder says that actually [fitting into Coca-Cola crates wasn’t important after all](… but it drove them to simplify the product in ways that made it successful.

Science |

I love that [chocolate milk is now positioned as a sports drink]( I’ve [long been a fan](, actually…

Worry Isn’t Work

> Worry isn’t work. Being stressed out isn’t work. Anxiety isn’t work. Entertaining a sense of impending doom isn’t work. Incessant internal verbal punishment isn’t work. Indulging the great unknown fear in your own mind isn’t work. Hating yourself isn’t work.

> Work is the manifestation of value, and anyone who tells you that a person whose mind is 50% occupied with anxiety is more likely to manifest value is a person who isn’t manifesting much.

Dan Pallotta

Paul Graham on addiction

That is, addiction in general and information/Internet addiction in particular.

> The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40…

> My latest trick is taking long hikes. I used to think running was a better form of exercise than hiking because it took less time. Now the slowness of hiking seems an advantage, because the longer I spend on the trail, the longer I have to think without interruption…

> We’ll increasingly be defined by what we say no to.

The Acceleration of Addictiveness.

Creativity and insanity

Apparently [creative people share a brain structure with schizophrenics](

> “We have studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors, and have shown that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people is similar to that found in people with schizophrenia…Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.” – Dr. Fredrik Ullén

Well, that would explain [Dr. NakaMats](

(This just keeps getting better…)

Why yoga

Sometimes it feels like you are trapped by your own body–by aches and pains, by sickness, by physical abilities.

But somehow practicing yoga makes it feel like instead of the body’s desires dominating the mind, the mind is able to control the body.

Today I stopped myself from sneezing during yoga by recognizing it was just a false trigger from my body.

I suspect that meditation works similarly, by training the soul to direct the mind instead of the monkey mind trampling the soul. But I’m not quite there yet unfortunately…

Let my people sleep

“On the average, A students get 15 minutes more sleep than B students – ‘every fifteen minutes counts’…Edina, MN moved its start time an hour later – the top 10% of graduating class went up 200 SAT points on a 1600 point scale.” – Ashley Merryman at Pop!Tech.